Tag Archives: imperialism

The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2007)

 “If they bring their savagery over here, we will meet it with a savagery of our own.”

A war of occupation is a peculiar thing. It’s a war that has no defined battle lines, and there’s a good chance that most of the native combatants will be civilians. This inevitably brings reprisals down upon the heads of the noncombatant civilian population. Also since there’s nowhere safe to escape to (you can’t really go behind battle lines since there aren’t any), it’s virtually impossible to stay neutral or uninvolved. In a war of occupation, sooner or later you are going to lose someone you care about, and then you’re sucked into the vortex of violence whether you like it or not.

wind-that-shakes-the-barleyDirector Ken Loach’s film The Wind that Shakes the Barley does a marvelous job of showing the devastating fallout of the British occupation of Ireland through the story of two brothers. The film is set during one of the two periods in Irish history known as the so-called ‘Troubles’ (1919-1921). ”Troubles’ seems like a fairly innocuous label to stick on these turbulent, bloody times, but perhaps that was the point. In 1912, Britain promised Home Rule to Ireland, but this was delayed with the advent of WWI. The failed Easter Rebellion of 1916 helped create support for Sinn Fein, and resistance to the British occupation was growing.

Damien (Cillian Murphy) sees the occupation as something that has little to do with him or his intention to become a doctor. Damien’s brother, Teddy (Padriac Delaney), on the other hand, is passionately devoted to ending the British occupation of Ireland. The two brothers don’t see eye-to-eye on the subject, and while Teddy thinks that Damian should stay and fight, Damian sees medicine as a priority.

Damian’s stance of non-involvement comes to a crushing halt one afternoon. He plays a game of curling with some friends. A group of British soldiers arrive, and using the excuse that the game constitutes an illegal gathering, the soldiers proceed to brutalize the locals and murder of one of Damien’s friends. This incident causes a moral shift in Damian, and fueled by a desire for justice and freedom from the yoke of the British, Damian joins the IRA. The film follows the situations Damien is forced to confront–betrayal by comrades, the difficulty of sustaining a relationship, the abandonment of comrades, and finally a split with his brother over the issue of the 1921 Truce ordered by the First Dail (the Irish parliament established in 1919 and dissolved in 1921 during the truce). Damian rejects the order to give up arms and refuses the truce as a betrayal, telling his brother “This treaty makes you a servant of the British Empire.”

The film’s portrayal of the British soldiers is not flattering, and director Ken Loach (who also made the marvelous mostly-forgotten film about the Spanish Revolution Land and Freedom) came under a great deal of fire for making this film. The film’s commentary (an extra feature on the DVD) includes an explanation that the British Black and Tans were hardened soldiers who’d served in WWI (whereas the Irish were not subject to conscription for WWI). This intense story carries a sense of dreadful sense of fatalism that grows as the film continues, and this makes for a grueling experience at times. Based on real events, some brutal scenes include beatings, torture and executions. And in a history-repeats-itself way, it’s impossible to watch this film and not draw comparisons to the current debacle in Iraq.

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Filed under Ken Loach, Political/social films

Another Sky (1954)

 The past is only a dream that brought me here.”

The mesmerizing, haunting film Another Sky is the tale of an English governess, Rose Graham (Victoria Grayson) who travels to Morocco to take a post as a companion. Rose’s employer Selena Prouse (Catherine Lacey) is a well-to-do middle-aged woman who uses Rose’s presence as a sort of smoke screen for her dalliance with her much younger gigolo.

Rose, who is left to her own devices a great deal, explores the city with a seasoned guide, Ahmed (Ahmed Ben Mohammed). While dining at a local restaurant, Rose meets and falls in love with a musician Tayeb (Taieb).

This tragic tale of love and imperialism is set against the jarring clash of two wildly different, and vastly inequitable, cultures. The streets teem with children and adults begging for money, and the market place attracts sideshows whose members hope tourists will leave a little change. The Europeans in Marrakech imagine that the Moroccans are just vessels for their comfort and amusement. Selena Prouse, for example, sees her houseboy (a child) as grateful for a narrow mattress in a corner of her home, and she doesn’t contemplate the morality of their situations beyond the fact that he’d probably starve without her (“When you’ve been here a while, you’ll realise it’s all they expect.”). Selena doesn’t believe in ‘spoiling’ the locals either, and she frowns on Rose when she hands out a 100-franc note to a street beggar. The local children approach Rose with the same ritual every day. First they get her attention, and then she shakes hands with them as if she’s making their acquaintance right before she opens up her bag and hands out money.

The wealthy Europeans in Marrakech are portrayed as a decadent bunch who party in a local palace now converted to a restaurant for those who can afford it. Rose, who grasps that money is at the root of all the relationships between the Moroccans and the Europeans, fails to see that money also taints her relationship with Tayeb. She sees money “as a common language” the two cultures share. Rose’s attempts to communicate with Tayeb accentuate the unbreachable & unfathomable mysteries of another culture. Symbolically (and unknowingly), Rose abandons her own culture to pursue her love, and as she strays from her fellow Europeans, her vulnerability increases until, finally, she is as desperate as the native population. When stripped of everything, and finally equal with the locals, they come to her aid. This highly unusual hypnotic film, with minimal dialogue, is written and directed by novelist Gavin Lambert. This was his only film. An amazing film for its time.

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Filed under British